On June 7, a veto-proof majority of Minneapolis City Council members announced that they intend to disband the city’s police department in response to the murder of George Floyd by officer Derek Chauvin. The announcement follows the recent decision by the city’s public schools system to end ties with the Minneapolis Police Department. This idea of dismantling the police certainly didn’t come out of a thin air, it’s a move that local activists have been pushing for years.
Steve Fletcher is a Council Member for Minneapolis’s Ward 3. Amid the nationwide uprisings over Floyd’s killing last week, Fletcher posted a long Twitter thread detailing the need for such action. “The whole world is watching, and we can declare policing as we know it a thing of the past, and create a compassionate, non-violent future,” he tweeted, “It will be hard. But so is managing a dysfunctional relationship with an unaccountable armed force in our city. Let’s show the world what Minneapolis is made of.”
As protests continue to engulf America’s streets, with demonstrators making demands to defund and abolish police departments, cities across the country are starting to begin a discussion over the future of policing.
In These Times spoke with Fletcher about the fight in Minneapolis and the steps ahead.
Every Minneapolis city council member has expressed the need for deep, structural change. Disbanding the department obviously might take some time. What do the next steps look like?4
I have become pretty convinced, as have many of my colleagues, that we need a fresh start. We actually cannot reform this department. It’s going to need to be a completely different thing. The next steps are to figure out what happens if we were to disband the Minneapolis Police Department. Who would respond to 9-1-1 calls? How can we guarantee the interim safety of our residents while we figure out what the future of public safety looks like? That’s the process we are going through right now, really figuring out what the steps are.
Community-led efforts and black-led community organizations have been driving this narrative for years. They’ve asked us to defund this police department and envision a future beyond it. They have already laid a lot of the groundwork for the bigger, more aspirational future vision. A lot of that groundwork is what’s allowing us to respond to this moment in a unified, thoughtful, intentional way. A lot of credit goes to our community organizers on the ground for paving the way and for helping us all imagine that future in advance.
We are dealing with the technical challenges of ensuring that core services are [still being provided] and that we have a response when someone is in an urgent situation. That’s the process we are going through right now.
Read the full interview. It's an important discussion.
A new International Organization for Migration (IOM) report sheds light on the negative impact the coronavirus has had on the Iraqi economy. The intergovernmental organization said that restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the pandemic will continue to hurt small and medium-sized businesses in Iraq.
“The already dire situation is likely to deteriorate and become even more challenging for job and economic opportunity creation,” the IOM said in the report. “Livelihoods have been widely disrupted across the country, driven primarily by movement restrictions."
The IOM is a “related organization” of the United Nations and works closely with the international body on migration and displacement issues. Its Enterprise Development Fund supports job creation and economic growth in Iraq. The country hosts more than a million internally displaced persons and refugees. The fund was responsible for the report.
Iraq went into a lockdown in March when its number of confirmed coronavirus cases was still relatively low. Only essential businesses like supermarkets and pharmacies remained open. The country then eased restrictions in late April. Late last month, Iraq returned to a full lockdown after a surge in cases.
The report based its findings on data collected in April from small and medium-sized enterprises in the manufacturing, food, retail, service and other sectors. Small and medium-sized enterprises are independent firms that do not rely on subsidies and have a few hundred employees or less.
“ The Turkish state has launched a wave of air raids in southern Kurdistan, northern Iraq tonight. The strikes targeted several positions in the regions of Qandil, Maxmur (Makhmour) and Shengal (Sinjar), including a refugee camp and hospital,” it said.
Makhmour camp hosts more than 12,000 Kurdish refugees who have fled persecution by the Turkish state, largely in the 1990s. The camp has a governing council and an armed force, the Makhmour Protection Units, established in 2014 when Islamic State (ISIS) militants attacked the area. The units are believed to have ties to the PKK.
Bedran Pirani, co-mayor of the Makhmour Camp Municipality, told Rudaw
that strikes near the camp left several children unconscious, who were
then rushed to hospital.
"The airstrikes lasted an hour from 12:10am to 01:10am. They were a large number of unmanned drones and jets hovering overhead," Pirani said.
The Iraqi Joint Operations Command (JOC) condemned on Monday the Turkish airstrikes against suspected positions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in several areas in northern Iraq.
A JOC statement said that 18 Turkish warplanes carried out a series of airstrikes late on Sunday night on refugee camps in Sinjar, some 100 km west of Nineveh's provincial capital Mosul, and Makhmour, about 60 km southeast of Mosul.
The Turkish warplanes also flew over the areas of al-Kuwayr, Erbil and al-Shirqat, with 193 km deep inside the Iraqi territories, the statement said.
The JOC described the Turkish airstrikes as "provocative act and is inconsistent with the good-neighborliness in accordance with international conventions and is a flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty."
Iraq called on Turkey to stop the violation of Iraqi territories and said that it is "fully prepared for cooperation between the two countries to control the security situations on the common borders," the statement added.
BBC News (link has text and video) reports on last night's bombing, "An air strike by Turkish warplanes near a Kurdish village close to the border with Iraq has left 35 people dead, officials say. One report said that smugglers had been spotted by unmanned drones and were mistaken for Kurdish rebels." Reuters quotes Uludere Mayor Fehmi Yaman explaining that they have recovered 30 corpses, all smugglers, not PKK, and he declares, "This kind of incident is unacceptable. They were hit from the air." AFP adds, "Local security sources said the dead were among a group smuggling gas and sugar into Turkey from northern Iraq and may have been mistaken for Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels."
Defense Ministry Spokesman Yehia Rasool confirmed to Al-Monitor that the suspect, identified only as Al Jurithi, is suspected of killing a protester in Baghdad and threatening others. He also confessed to rioting, burning property and striking security forces, and he was arrested under the direction of new Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
Sweeping anti-government demonstrations broke out in October 2019, aimed at dismantling the political establishment and bringing attention to government corruption, poor public services and high unemployment. Rights groups accused security forces of using violent tactics to suppress the unrest, including firing live ammunition at peaceful protesters.
In documenting the deaths of 490 protesters, the United Nations wrote in a report last month that the “absence of accountability for these acts continues to contribute to the pervasive environment of impunity.” The UN also reported 33 activists were assassinated and at least 99 people had been abducted.
The widespread protests prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi in late November 2019. Some five months later, Kadhimi was sworn in as his successor, bringing an end to the political deadlock.
The 42-page report, “‘We Might Call You in at Any Time’: Free Speech Under Threat in Iraq,” examines a range of defamation and incitement legal provisions that authorities have used against critics, including journalists, activists, and other dissenting voices. The Iraqi and Kurdistan Region parliaments should replace criminal defamation articles in the Penal Code with civil defamation penalties and amend laws that limit free speech to comply with international law. Given Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s new role as prime minister and his stated willingness since taking office to address some of Iraq’s most serious human rights challenges, the government has a unique opportunity to tackle over a decade of free speech restrictions.
Iraq’s Penal Code, which dates back to 1969, includes numerous defamation “crimes” such as “insult[ing] the Arab community” or any government official, regardless of whether the statement is true. Although few people serve prison time for defamation, the criminal process itself acts as a punishment. Reporting on abuses by the security forces or about corruption is especially risky.
Haitham Sulaiman, 48, a protest movement organizer, in an April 6, 2020 Facebook post called on the Muthana governor to investigate allegations of health department corruption linked to the purchase of Covid-19 masks. He was arrested on April 10, beaten, and forced to sign a document stating that the United States had bankrolled the protest movement.
In 2014, the Communications and Media Commission, “an independent institution” linked to the parliament, issued “mandatory” guidelines to regulate media “during the war on terror,” which were updated and renamed the “Media Broadcasting Rules” in 2019 and are still in place today. Human Rights Watch was unable to determine any legal basis for the guidelines or the agency’s actions.
Following the start of widespread protests in October 2019, the authorities ordered the closure of 8 television and 4 radio stations for 3 months for allegedly violating media licensing rules, based on the guidelines, and issued warnings to 5 other broadcasters over their coverage. Unidentified armed men raided and damaged the offices of at least three news outlets in October. In early April 2020, the commission suspended Reuters’ license and fined it 25 million IQD (US$21,000) for an April 2 article alleging that the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country was much higher than official statistics indicated. The authorities lifted the suspension on April 19.
Kurdistan regional authorities are using the region’s penal code, Press Law, and Law to Prevent the Misuse of Telecommunications Equipment to curb free speech. A 40-year-old man was arrested after he live-streamed a demonstration on the morning of January 26, 2019 and charged with Penal Code and Telecommunications Law violations. A judge dismissed the charges and authorities released him after 29 days in custody.
Interviewees who had been criminally charged felt that the prosecutions were to intimidate critics. Eleven said they did not hear from the prosecution for extended periods, leaving them unsure of whether the cases were still active. One said “When the Asayish [Kurdish security forces] released me after I paid a fee on March 10, 2019, they told me, ‘We might call you in at any time.’”
Eleven said security forces had ill-treated them at the time of arrest or in detention. All 14 journalists and 4 activists interviewed said they regularly received threats, usually from anonymous sources by phone or social media, and sometimes from security forces or government officials. Amanj Bakir, a journalist, said that threats he received over two articles about the Kurdistan region in March have taken a toll on him.
On April 29, Human Rights Watch wrote to the Iraqi government and Kurdistan Regional Government soliciting information regarding the cases documented in the report. While the authorities in Baghdad did not respond by the time of publication, the Kurdistan Regional Government responded on May 20 in a “preliminary” manner, stating that the KRG “is committed to the preservation of journalists’ rights” and would follow up with more information.
International human rights law allows for restrictions on freedom of expression to protect the reputations of others, but such restrictions must be necessary and narrowly drawn. Human Rights Watch believes that criminal penalties are always a disproportionate punishment for alleged reputational harm.
Iraqi federal and Kurdistan regional authorities should direct security forces to end intimidation, harassment, arrest, and assault of journalists and others for exercising their right to free expression and investigate credible allegations of threats or attacks by government employees or others against critics.
“Given the mistrust between civil society and the media on the one hand and authorities on the other, Iraq’s new government and Kurdish authorities should reform laws to bring them in line with international standards,” Wille said. “Getting rid of vague provisions on insults and incitement would show that the authorities are committed to protecting free speech.”
US prosecutors have failed to include one of WikiLeaks’ most shocking video revelations in the indictment against Julian Assange, a move that has brought accusations the US doesn’t want its “war crimes” exposed in public.
Assange, an Australian citizen, is remanded and in ill health in London’s Belmarsh prison while the US tries to extradite him to face 18 charges – 17 under its Espionage Act – for conspiracy to receive, obtain and disclose classified information.
The charges relate largely to the US conduct of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including Assange’s publication of the US rules of engagement in Iraq.
The prosecution case alleges Assange risked American lives by releasing hundreds of thousands of US intelligence documents.
Dean Yates was the head of REUTERS' Baghdad beureau when the July 12, 2007 attack took place killing REUTERS journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh -- the attack carried out by the US government. Daley quotes Yates stating, "What he did was 100% an act of truth-telling, exposing to the world what the war in Iraq looks like and how the US military lied … The US knows how embarrassing Collateral Murder is, how shameful it is to the military – they know that there’s potential war crimes on that tape."
Reuters staff had by now spoken to 14 witnesses in al-Amin. All of them said they were unaware of any firefight that might have prompted the helicopter strike.
Yates recalls: “The words that kept forming on my lips were ‘cold-blooded murder’.”
The Iraqi staff at Reuters, meanwhile, were concerned that the bureau was too soft on the US military. “But I could only write what we could establish and the US military was insisting Saeed and Namir were killed during a clash,” Yates says.
The meeting that put him on a path of destructive, paralysing – eventually suicidal – guilt and blame “that basically f**ked me up for the next 10 years”, leaving him in a state of “moral injury”, happened at US military headquarters in the Green Zone on 25 July.